Saturday, June 24, 2006

Red, White and Through

The 2006 American World Cup is over.

Did you blink? You might have missed it.

What you can’t miss however is the post-hoc outrage. After the mini-miracle that was 2002 where America got to the round of 16, the United States had big expectations. Instead of living up to the hype, much like most things in life, it fell far short.

Of course, who can blame some angry people? The United States scored one goal in three games, the other goal accredited was actually Italy accidentally scoring on itself and only counts in the bottom line. Even worse than one goal was the four shots on goal the U.S. had.

No, not four shots in a game, four shots the entire tournament! Heck, Ronaldo can have that many shots in a half for Brazil.

Now this Group the United States was in had been pegged the “Group of Death” and it appears for good reason. Italy is always a contender for the cup and the Czech Republic were pre-ranked as the second best team in the entire thing. Then there’s Ghana, a team maybe everyone took for granted that pulled off the shocking upset of the Czechs and then crushed American dreams 2-1. Maybe the go-ahead goal came on a questionable penalty but hey…they had more than four shots on goal.

So the excuses and anger are everywhere, but most of it seems to be pointed squarely on the coach, former UVA soccer coach Bruce Arena. Arena has one storied career, one that most of these newcomers to soccer know next to nothing about. That’s because on the biggest stage of his career Arena blew it….badly.

The talent he developed was greater than ever before, the effort was obviously not. The Czech game made Americans look like a dead team walking. Against Italy, with the backs against the wall, the U.S. squad really brought forth a brilliant effort, but no coach could have ruined the spirit when their four years of work are on the line. Then Ghana came and another terrible performance in most categories.

U.S. soccer’s offensive game plan looked more like a page from old Al Groh’s conservative playbook. The U.S. played it safe, even when they were desperate for a win. Maybe not being humiliated was good enough before, but not anymore.

As Americans we like to win, even when we know next to nothing about the sport. We like to win even when it’s something where we’ve never been that successful. America has never won on European soil in the World Cup, ever. They have lost by a combined score of 26-6. Chew on that.

Personally I blame our goalie; the grizzly veteran has never won a World Cup game with his team in front of the goal….never. He’s been there since 1990 and is still winless!?!?! In 2002 when the U.S. made their upset bid he was on the bench…don’t you think we could have taken the hint?

Nevertheless, this appears to be the end for Mr. Arena. He shouldn’t feel too bad, most World Cup coaches have a lifespan about as long as a hockey coach (or for you non-hockey fans, a goldfish). Arena had an 8-year run and developed the talent that could really make the run most Americans actually seem to care about. If someone does get the job done, it will be from this foundation. So America may be out, but that’s why there is a 2010 World Cup.

By the way, it’s in Africa! So you better plan to buy your round of 16 tickets now.


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